Notes: Playing starring role
Collins a rare talent, Butler says
By BOB McGINNbmcginn@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Oct. 21, 2008
Green Bay - LeRoy Butler, one of the two greatest safeties in the Green Bay Packers' history, has seen enough from Nick Collins after seven games to know where he'll be headed come February.
"I think he'll make the Pro Bowl this year," Butler said Tuesday. "And that will make me very happy."
Collins is tied for the National Football League lead in interceptions with four, one more than any other safety. His 171 return yards, which include touchdowns of 42 and 62 yards, lead the NFL.
"This guy went from a good safety to a great safety in the matter of one off-season," Butler said. "Nobody is playing better than him. The reason why I'm most proud of him is because I know people gave him a lot of flak because he didn't do what I did."
Butler has paid close attention to Collins' career. He took a personal interest in his development, and they have talked many times over the last four years.
They both were second-round draft choices, Butler in 1990 and Collins in 2005, and both went to high school in Florida, Butler at Jacksonville Lee and Collins at Cross City Dixie County.
Not only that but Collins also was the first player to be issued Butler's No. 36 jersey. Butler was forced to retire in July 2002 because of a shoulder injury.
"There's no other guy I'd rather have wearing it than him," Butler said. "I'm hoping he can duplicate everything I ever did."
At the invitation of general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, Butler has watched several home games from the bench area during Collins' career. He was there Sunday when he saw Collins break up a long pass for wide receiver Marvin Harrison of the Indianapolis Colts that "blew my mind," according to Butler.
"That play impressed me more than any play I saw in the whole game Sunday," Butler said. "I don't think I ever played with a guy who could have made that play. I don't think I could have."
Midway through the third quarter, Peyton Manning gunned a perfect pass that seemed destined to be caught by Harrison at the goal line behind cornerback Will Blackmon for a 27-yard touchdown.
Playing the near hashmark in a two-safety look, Collins had Reggie Wayne racing down the seam straight at him with Charles Woodson in tight trail coverage. To Collins' left, Harrison had beaten Blackmon and was sprinting toward the end zone.
"As a safety you try to scan the entire field," Butler said. "In my peripheral vision, I see Marvin breaking past Blackmon. 'I gotta go now. I gotta go. I've got to commit over there to break this ball up.'
"A lot of safeties would have stood on their hash, got a late break or broke too flat. And the ball would have gone right over their head and it would have been a touchdown."
Collins bolted over, leaped high into the air near the 7 and deflected the ball just enough so it couldn't be caught.
After the game, Collins actually called it an "average break" and said if he had angled back toward the 5, he could have intercepted.
"In a perfect world, you want to take all these angles," Butler said. "But he did the most unselfish thing he's done. He went up there and knocked the ball down. Had he tried to extend himself to intercept it, and it had gone through his hands or over his hands and the guy scored, he would never forgive himself.[size=18]"Now Darren Sharper, in his prime, used to miss a lot of balls because he wanted the interception and the guy would score. Sharper would have been shallow and gone for the pick. If he missed the pick, touchdown.[/size]
"I just want people to realize how good that play really was. He came from nowhere. Peyton thought it was a touchdown."
Why wouldn't Butler have been able to defend that pass in his prime?
"The speed and the anticipation," he said. "He's a lot faster than I was. I hated to vacate that middle, but he left the middle in a hurry. His decision-making is better than mine."
Butler said he doubted Collins would have broken it up in the past three seasons.
The Packers haven't had a Pro Bowl safety since Sharper in 2002, and Collins is eager to be the next.
"That's a goal of mine," Collins said. "It'd be great. But I'm just here to play football and help this team win the best way I can."
On the way
McCarthy's wife, Jessica, had a doctor's appointment Tuesday and the birth of their first child appears imminent.
"She's close," McCarthy said last week. "She's ready. I'm ready. I just want to see her."
For almost 2 seasons, A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett have been the linebackers in the nickel defense. But Hawk, who perhaps wasn't 100% with a groin injury, sat out Sunday in favor of Brandon Chillar, who drew praise from the coaches.
On Monday, McCarthy wouldn't say whether Hawk would be back in the nickel for the next game.
"Those are good problems to have," McCarthy said. "I think in hindsight it was a good move that A.J. didn't have to play as much this week. He has a chance to get healthy. We don't just have 11 starters."